Tag Archive | jazz

Improvisation and Play in New Media, Games and Experimental Sound Practices

Sound-Improv-New-Media-Art

Editors’ Note: Welcome to Sounding Out!‘s December forum entitled “Sound, Improvisation and New Media Art.” This series explores the nature of improvisation and its relationship to appropriative play cultures within new media art and contemporary sound practice. This series will engage directly with practitioners, who either deploy or facilitate play and improvisation through their work in sonic new media cultures.

The first essay in this series draws from a constellation of disciplinary perspectives that investigate these critical valences, and posits both play and improvisation as critical interventions which can expose, critique and interrupt the proprietary techniques and strategies of contemporary consumer media technologies.

— Guest Editors Skot Deeming and Martin Zeilinger

As media art scholars and curators of the annual Vector Game Art & New Media Festival, we are particularly interested in the conceptual convergence between critical approaches to play, on the one hand, and to improvisation, on the other. In this short essay, we therefore ask how improvisational sound-based media practices that use technologies, aesthetics, artifacts, and expressive modes of play may challenge the assimilative advances of corporate capital, carving out sites at which its logic may be opposed and confounded. We contend that there is a critical edge to the cultural milieu of playful computation through which practitioners (whether as artists or simply as players) can recuperate play from the mainstreamed sound cultures of digital capital through improvisation-based approaches. It is in this regard that play, as a participative act, rather than an interactive mode, can become a critical site by which to understand artistic interventions through contemporary technologies. This essay provokes a dialogue between theoretical avenues in popular music studies and game studies in order to show how the often-conflated practices of improvisation and play have the potential to challenge the homogenous and repetitive logic of the technological sector and the music industry.

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An algorave at Vector Game Art & New Media Festival.

We must turn first to popular music studies where the critical valence of improvisation is a relatively well-established concept. Jazz improvisation in particular has been widely recognized as a powerful mode of political expression. Charles Hersch has argued that techniques of polyphony allow for jazz to reconcile the seemingly contradictory dynamics of individual expression and collectivity, thus allowing for the articulation of black solidarity through musical interventions (97-8). Because jazz is importantly built on appropriation-based creative models, it yields fluid, fleeting, spontaneous results that are difficult to assimilate into the entertainment industry’s property-based circuits. Digital play exhibits a similar potential of challenging the logic of capital; it harbors a powerful creative potential even in heavily commodified contexts. Play allows us (indeed, requires us) to become active in shaping the improvisational, the field of simultaneously critical, creative and performative contexts of expression.

 

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Crowds enjoying Vector Game Art & New Media Festival.

Like jazz musicians, game players embody and enact a powerful sense of potentially uncommodifiable agency. Both improvisation and play function similarly, and highlight how contexts of music-making and game-playing activate individuals as critical, expressive agents. Players guide themselves through games based on subjective, rather than imposed, motivations. We can see this emerging in gaming cultures through the rise of player-based phenomena such ‘speedrunning,’ a practice that exploits glitches and faults in a game’s architecture in order to reach the end of a game in the shortest possible time. These niche and ephemeral gaming practices highlight the degree to which practices of improvisation in play may constitute a powerful way of pushing ‘through’ capital–both literally, by accessing games through glitches in their proprietary fabric, and figuratively, if we understand such forms of play as ways to resist the capitalist ideologies embedded within the structures of games (such as the accumulation of wealth, power, or points). Having established here how game-play can act as a form of critical improvisation, this essay now intends to show how these practices of playful improvisation are manifest in the technologies, aesthetics, and the cultural contexts of sound-based art.

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Circuit bending Vector Game Art & New Media Festival’s glitch.jam.

Where can we locate practices of improvisation in the context of sound art? For us, sound art is improvisational both in form and practice. First, the emerging aesthetic dimensions of the medium are fundamentally related to the participatory practices of making that have been used to develop the instruments of sound art, such as circuit bending, hacking, tinkering. Here, the playful and open-ended practices of making are a form of improvisation, a modulation within the typical technological frames in which musical composition is typically embedded. Second, when gaming devices are turned into musical instruments (or vice versa), users are called upon to rethink improvisational practice as game-play, and experiment with deploying play as composition. In this sense, game players become sound artists, with sound technologies extrapolating and improvising new sounds from the habit of their play. Improvisation and play thus allow emerging communities of practice to counteract the corporate ‘black boxing’ of entertainment technologies and the creation of closed systems of interaction and participation (such as many mainstream video games) which assimilate user activities and foreclose improvisational play.

Such approaches to sound art are represented by many creative practitioners and take a wide variety of forms, including the appropriation and creative redeployment of participative game environments and game engines. Examples include the creation of interactive sound environments and playable instruments within mainstream participative game ecologies such as the Little Big Planet franchise, the hacking and ‘bending’ of proprietary technologies that invoke the vast universe of game culture nostalgically or in a parodic mode (including handheld gaming systems such as the Nintendo Gameboy, which spawned an entire electronic music genre known as chipmusic), or the making of non-proprietary infrastructures for creative expression that encourage open, participative play, such as open source live coding environments including Sonic Pi, originally developed for the Raspberry Pi platform. Following such approaches, game controllers, digital objects, avatars, virtual architectures, and digital artifacts can thus become tools of composition and/or improvisation. Similarly, we might also think of the improvisational frameworks constructed by sound practitioners as ‘playgrounds,’ which allow players to become performers who explore the technological, political, and aesthetic limits of play. But emergent communities of creative practitioners frequently adopt such close systems and technologies subversively, for example by reverse-engineering them and developing alternative uses. In doing so, they alter the contexts in which these technologies are employed, and open them up for use as musical instruments and infrastructure for creative and critical expression. Technological artifacts with unique user communities can thus be conceptualized as frameworks for musical expression. Vintage gaming consoles, games engines, and computational algorithms have all been reconstructed as new forms of musical creation and interaction through participatory creative communities.

 

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Thesis Sahib performs at Vector Game Art & New Media Festival.

In this short essay, we have approached ‘play’ and ‘improvisation’ as related concepts that can serve to recuperate and empower critical perspectives within the game and sound cultures of capital. As we have suggested, playful approaches to improvisational sound-work and perspectives on play that are rooted in musical traditions can be productively discussed both in sound studies contexts and within game studies paradigms. How, then, do sound practitioners appropriate game technology? How do the socio-political dimensions of digital game culture inform musical practice? With the help of our contributors to this series, we explore how critical perspectives on musical improvisation aid our understanding of the cultural and socio-political significance of play and, likewise, how critical theories of play may broaden our understanding of improvisational sound practices. Through building, tinkering, problem solving, and improvising on the technological back end, creative practitioners playfully create and reshape tools, devices, and techniques of improvisational practice that often embody important ethics of openness, dynamism, fluidity, and sharing, posited against the closed culture of proprietary consumer technology by which we are commonly surrounded. Between live coding, modular synthesis, creative computing, hardware hacking, and appropriation-based interactive performances, the contributors to this series operate in many creative modes that oscillate between improvisation and play. What all of them share is a sense that both play and improvisation enable creative expression outside of prescribed, commodified circuits of media consumption. Improvisation and play can yield wonderful aesthetic experiments and experiences, they can provide critical, social commentary, and they can sharpen our sense of the impact that proprietary technology has on our digital cultural landscape. What we are most interested in are moments when these ambitions converge, when improvisation – drawing on techniques or technologies of play and operating in modes that are associated with play – becomes critical.

All images used with permission from Vector Game Art & New Media Festival.

Featured image: ”Blip Fest 2011 @ Eyebeam, Day 2” by Wikimedia Commons user Lucius Kwok CC BY-SA.

Skot Deeming is an interdisciplinary artist, curator and scholar, whose work spans the spectrum of new media art practice from broadcast media to computational art, experimental videogames, and game art. Drawing on a wealth of practical experience and theoretical knowledge, skot’s practice focuses on new media history and historiography, and DIY technology cultures. This work articulates itself through critical research and writing, exhibitions, installations, and performances. With Martin, Skot is the co-curator of Vector Game Art & New Media Festival., in Toronto, Canada, and the artistic director of the Drone Island Sound Art Festival in Yellowknife, NT. He currently resides in Montreal where he is a doctoral student in the Individualized Program at Concordia University, and a member of the TAG Research Centre, where he investigates critical histories of computational and new media art practices. http://www.mrghosty.com/

Martin Zeilinger (PhD) is a new media researcher, practitioner, and curator whose work focuses on the intersection of digital media art, activism, and intellectual property issues. He is a Lecturer in Media at Anglia Ruskin University, Cambridge/UK, as well as an Associate Researcher at the OCADU Data Materialization Studio. He is co-editor of ‘Dynamic Fair Dealing’ (Univ. of Toronto Press 2014), which develops interdisciplinary perspectives on cultural ownership issues in new media contexts; recent peer-reviewed essays have appeared in the Computer Music Journal, the International Assoc. for the Study of Popular Music Journal, and in Sampling Media (Oxford UP 2014). With Skot, Martin is co-curator of the Toronto-based Vector Game Art & New Media Festival. http://marjz.net/

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Playing with Bits, Pieces, and Lightning Bolts: An Interview with Sound Artist Andrea Perkins — Maile Colbert

Digital Analogies: Techniques of Sonic Play — Roger Mosley

Experiments in Aural Resistance: Nordic Role-Playing, Community, and Sound — Aaron Trammell

Sound at ASA 2014

The 2014 American Studies Association meeting will be held in Los Angeles, an appropriate setting for this year’s theme, “Fun and the Fury: Dialectics of Pleasure and Pain in the Post-American Century.” The conference, which will take place from November 6-9, will offer panels of interest to Sound Studies scholars. The City of Angels has long served as a muse for artists and thinkers interested in creating innovative worlds. Los Angeles is a place of experimentation and futuristic transformation, or as Norman Mailer called it, a constellation of plastic. Part of Mexico until 1848, Los Angeles is a global metropolis that embodies the keen contradictions of national and capital in the 21st century, often exposing the nuts and bolts that hold together these structures. Fun, fury, and the “dialectics of pleasure and pain” are useful for conceptualizing the sharp contrasts that characterize the city of LA itself. A panel on Sunday, Central Avenue Breakdown: Gender, Race, and Coming of Age in a Los Angeles Jazz Community, will discuss the historical complexities of the city of Los Angeles by way of the African American entertainment district of Central Avenue (Sunday 2:00-3:45).

This year’s ASA program features an increase in sound and music-related papers in comparison to last year’s conference in Washington, D.C., which was concerned with the logic of debt. The upswing is partially due to the 2014 theme, which emphasizes the production of alternative spaces that counter repressive forces. As the program committee, comprised of co-chairs J. Jack Halberstam, Fred Moten, and Sandra Soto, writes, “The critical power of ‘fun’ in this unconventional convention theme seeks nothing less than the reimagining of possibility, impossibility, probability and freedom.” Sound Studies is already geared toward thinking about how careful listening can offer new ways of being-in-the-world, so the increase in music-themed panels this year is not surprising. As music scholars and listeners have long insisted, music is foundational to embodied experiences of pleasure and fun. Music’s ability to transport listeners and to cultivate collectivity makes it uniquely relevant to discussions of pleasure.

"So Much Noise" by Flickr user Doran, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 http://www.flickr.com/photos/dopey/9260000239

“So Much Noise” by Flickr user Doran, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

One notable exception to the musical focus is the second of the two ASA Sound Studies Caucus panels, “The Racial Politics of Listening: ‘Accents,’ Hate Speech, and Language in the U.S. Media,” which will take place on Saturday from 2:00-3:45. Featuring Dolores Inés Casillas, Sara Hinojos, Marci McMahon, and SO! Editor-in-Chief, Jennifer Stoever, The panel will examine the role of speech and auditory cues in constructing racial representations. An individual paper by Craig Eley in the Environment and Culture Caucus panel Ecologies of Pleasure and Pain: Deviance, Destruction and Desire in Environmental History, entitled Psychologically Ultimate Seashores: Natural Sound, Personal Pleasure, and Recording Technologies is also worth mentioning (Sunday 10:00-11:45).

This year’s call for papers asked for participants to formulate creative modes for presenting their work, and Sound Studies scholars are stepping up. The first panel hosted by the ASA Sound Studies Caucus (Saturday 10:00-11:45) is an exciting listening dialogue entitled “Power Ballads and Blurred Lines: Songs from the Boundaries of Fun.” The commentators, Jeff Chang, Alice Echols, Evelyn McDonnell, Oliver Wang, and Rubén Martinez, will each play a song and discuss how pop music that is treated as harmless fun may nevertheless speak to social dynamics in real and important ways. A roundtable on Music, Fashion and the Power of (Queer) Nightlife (Friday 12:00-1:45) will include scholars of nightlife as well as party promoters and DJs, discussing the possibility for belonging in subcultural “nightworlds.”

"Hotel Bonaventure" by Flickr user S. N. Johnson-Roehr, CC BY-NC 2.0

“Hotel Bonaventure” by Flickr user S. N. Johnson-Roehr, CC BY-NC 2.0

This year there are a number of notable African American Studies panels, including After the Rain: Vanguardist Jazz in the Seventies (Thursday 10:00-11:45) organized in memory of Amiri Baraka, Stomp, Swerve, Rattle, and Roll: Fun and Pleasure as Political Resistance in American Blues Music (Thursday 4:00-5:45), What Words Can’t Do: Instrumentals, Identity, and Interpretation (Sunday 10:00-11:45), and Pleasure, Pain, Politics, and Performance: Black Women Artists and Their Fans (Sunday 12:00-1:45). The category of pleasure provides a framework for panels on The Aesthetics of Pleasure in California Funk (Sunday 10:00-11:45) and Performative Pleasures of Blackness: The Creation, Consumption, and Conflict of Pleasurable Blacknesses. Sound scholars also continue to investigate transnational modes of listening, in panels such as The Transnational Movements of Hip-Hop (Thursday 12:00-1:45), Fugitive Preludes: Chicana/o Popular Music and the Neoliberal City (Friday 10:00-11:45), and Performing Decolonial Aesthetics and the Politics of Pain and Pleasure in Music Across the Americas (Friday 12:00-1:45).

Two years ago, Jennifer Stoever mentioned that work in the field of Sound Studies was entering a period of reflection and becoming more nuanced and robust with sub-fields starting to develop. It is clear from this year’s program that the field is both broadening and deepening its focus. After two years of official recognition under the ASA Sound Studies Caucus and three years after the publication of Sound Clash, the special issue of American Quarterly, scholarship on sound in American Studies is developing in a myriad of ways and is coming into its own as a field.

Jump to THURSDAY, November 6
Jump to FRIDAY, November 7
Jump to SATURDAY, November 8
Jump to SUNDAY, November 9

Featured image: “Carmaheaven” by Flickr user waltarrrrr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Please comment to let SO! know what you think–both before and after ASA 2013.  If we somehow missed you or your panel in this round up, please let our Managing Editor know!: lms@soundingoutblog.com

Meghan Drury is a fifth-year Ph.D. candidate in the Department of American Studies at the George Washington University. She received an MA in ethnomusicology from UC Riverside in 2006. She is currently working on a dissertation tentatively titled “Aural Exotics: The Middle East in American Popular Music 1950-2011.” This project examines the interplay between popular music and American cultural representations of the Middle East from the mid-20th century to the present, illustrating how music and sound acted a means of consolidating and disseminating a range of ideas about Middle Eastern culture in the American mainstream. She is particularly interested in the way that sound increased the visibility of Arab Americans both before and after 9/11, offering a space for negotiations of identity. More broadly, Meghan’s interests include sound studies, U.S.-Middle East cultural relations, and Arab American cultural performance. 

 

"Echo Park September 2010" by Flickr user Calvin Fleming

“Echo Park September 2010” by Flickr user Calvin Fleming

THURSDAY, November 6th, 2014

8:00 am – 9:45 am

Religiosity and Altered States
Westin Bonaventure, Los Feliz (L1)

—Richard Cullen Rath, University of Hawai’i, Manoa (HI)
Dangerous Fun in Puritan New England: Mary Ross and the Singing Quakers

Riots, Radios, and the Historical Record: Mass Media and Crisis in Twentieth American Literature and Art
Westin Bonaventure, San Bernardino (L1)

—Hadji Bakara, University of Chicago (IL)
Guernica on the Radio: Anti-Fascism, Mass Media, and the Emergence of Human Rights Activism

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10:00 am – 11:45 am

Playing with Rules: Having Fun and Keeping Order in Mid-Century Racial Liberalism
Westin Bonaventure, San Fernando (L1)

—Yusuke Torii, Setsunan University (Japan)
S. I. Hayakawa’s Jazz Credentials and Racial Liberalism in Mid-Century America

—Masayoshi Yamada, Doshisha University (Japan)
Jazz, Fans, and the Pleasure of Listening during Turbulent Times

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After the Rain: Vanguardist Jazz in the Seventies (in memory of Amiri Baraka)
Westin Bonaventure, San Gabriel C (L1)

CHAIR:
Ronald Radano, University of Wisconsin, Madison (WI)

PAPERS:
Paul A. Anderson, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI)
“Thunder Blossoms Gorgeously”: Abstracting the Pastoral in Marion Brown’s Georgia Trilogy

Robert Maclean, The College of Wooster (OH)
Ensemble After Eventuality: Neoliberalism and the Duo Form

Brent Hayes Edwards, Columbia University (NY)
Notes Toward a “Loft” History of Jazz

COMMENT:
Ronald Radano, University of Wisconsin, Madison (WI)

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12:00 pm – 1:45 pm

Fun in Public: The Cultures of Amateur Labor
Westin Bonaventure, Palos Verdes (L1)

—Alexander W. Corey, University of Colorado, Boulder (CO)
Impulsive Triads: Frédéric Chopin, Amateur Pianists, and The Autobiography of an Ex-Colored Man

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The Transnational Movements of Hip-Hop
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Monica D (L3)

CHAIR:
Alexander Weheliye, Northwestern University (IL)

PAPERS:
Lenna Tayseer Odeh, University of California, San Diego (CA)
Acts of Sumud: Exploits of Resistance Through the Palestinian Hip-Hop Youth and Political Prisoner Movements

Najwa Mayer, Yale University (CT)
Muhammad was a punk rocker: Seeking Faith, Fun, and Form in Taqwacore

Elliott H. Powell, University of Minnesota, Twin Cities (MN)
The Sounds of Afro-South Asian Pleasure: Hip Hop, 9/11, and South-South Connections

Halifu Osumare, University of California, Davis (CA)
Play and Pain in Black Atlantic Hip-Hop: Hiplife in Ghana as Case Study

COMMENT:
Alexander Weheliye, Northwestern University (IL)

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2:00 pm – 3:45 pm

alt. Black Musical History
Westin Bonaventure, San Gabriel C (L1)

CHAIR:
Courtney Michael Brown, California State University, Fullerton (CA)

PAPERS:
Matthew Hayden Anthony, Pennsylvania State University, Harrisburg (PA)
I Got Country Roots: Race, Identity and Black Country Singers in the 1970s

Kreg Abshire, Johnson & Wales University (CO)
On Sonic Nostalgia: Making Sense of alt.country’s Hip Traditionalism

Keith D. Leonard, American University (DC)
Who Stole the Soul: An Avant-Garde History of the Dark Room Collective

Christa Holm Vogelius, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (AL)
The Jennie C. Lee Archive and the Silent Musical History of the Tuskegee Institute

COMMENT:
Courtney Michael Brown, California State University, Fullerton (CA)

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The Choreography of Protest
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Barbara B (L1)

—Sarah Ehlers, University of Houston (TX)
The Joys of the Picket Line: Reading the Rhythms of the Left

—Robert Michael Zecker, Saint Francis Xavier University (Canada)
A Mandolin Orchestra Could Attract a Lot of Attention: Interracial Fun with Radical Immigrants, 1930–1954

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Empire of Funk: Hip Hop and Representation in Filipina/o America—A Roundtable
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Barbara C (L1)

CHAIR:
Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, San Francisco State University (CA)

PANELISTS:
Roderick Labrador, University of Hawai’i, Manoa (HI)
Mark Villegas, University of California, Irvine (CA)
Mario “Nomi” De Mira, Artist
Stephen Bischoff, Washington State University, Pullman (WA)

COMMENT:
Dawn Bohulano Mabalon, San Francisco State University (CA)

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On Athletes and Outlaws: Asian Americans in Popular Culture and the Pleasures of Recognition
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Monica C (L3)

—Douglas S. Ishii, University of Maryland, College Park (MD)
Not about race, per se: Dave Boyle’s Asian American Music Film

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4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

Love and Rage: Cultural Strategies in Postwar U.S. Anarchism
Westin Bonaventure, San Bernardino (L1)

—Shon MeckFessel, University of Washington, Seattle (WA)
From a Disavowal of Commitment to a Commitment of Disavowal: (Non)Left Positionalities in 1980s Post-Punk and Anarchy-Punk

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Alternative Economies of Pleasure in Contemporary Southern Working-Class Cultures
Westin Bonaventure, San Pedro (L1)

—Nicholas Neil Gorrell, University of Mississippi (MS)
Economies of Scarcity and Abundance in Contemporary Southern Blues

—Anne Gessler, University of Texas, Austin (TX)
Second Lines, Creative Economies, and Gentrification: Music Cooperatives in Post-Katrina New Orleans

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Stomp, Swerve, Rattle, and Roll: Fun and Pleasure as Political Resistance in American Blues Music
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Monica A (L3)

CHAIR:
Daphne Brooks, Yale University (CT)

PAPERS:
Mark Anthony Neal, Duke University (NC)
“Let Me Bang Your Box”: The “Erotic Life” of the Blues

Sonnet Retman, University of Washington, Seattle (WA)
Memphis Minnie’s Jukebox Blues

Kimberly Mack, University of California, Los Angeles (CA)
“That Natural Blues Man Look”: Black Elvis and the Demythologization of the Black Blues Figure

R. J. Smith, Independent Scholar
Calling All Freaks!: The Licentious Blues Spirit of the Rent Party and the Buffet Flat

COMMENT:
Adam Gussow, University of Mississippi (MS)

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**Wildness: The Fun and the Fury of Anarchy**
Westin Bonaventure, San Gabriel C (L1)

CHAIR:
Mel Y. Chen, University of California, Berkeley (CA)

PAPERS:
Peter Coviello, Bowdoin College (ME)
The Wild Less Than the Good: Erotics and Biopolitics in Thoreau

Jack Halberstam, University of Southern California (CA)
‘Wildness at the End of the World’

Tavia Nyong’o, New York University (NY)
William Blake’s Wild America

COMMENT:
Mel Y. Chen, University of California, Berkeley (CA)

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"Busker (street musician) #2" by Flickr user Sunny Lapin, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

“Busker (street musician) #2” by Flickr user Sunny Lapin, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

FRIDAY, November 7th

8:00 am – 9:45 am

Feeling Queer
Westin Bonaventure, San Gabriel B (L1)

—Elias Krell, Northwestern University (IL)
Mixing Sound: Technologies of Fem(me)ninity and Mixed Race in Kelly Moe

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Life-Writing, Musical Lives
Westin Bonaventure, San Gabriel C (L1)

CHAIR:
Ulrich Adelt, University of Wyoming (WY)

PAPERS:
Nassim Winnie Balestrini, Karl-Franzens-University (Austria)
Fun, Fury, Fans: Affective Strategies in Intermedial Hip-Hop Life Writing

Mercy Romero, Sonoma State University (CA)
Two Lives in Music

Petra Rivera-Rideau, Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University (VA)
The Pleasures and Pains of Love: Listening to La Lupe and Ivy Queen

Jessica Elaine Teague, University of Nevada–Las Vegas (NV)
Charles Mingus and the Serious Fun of Jazz Autobiography

COMMENT:
Ulrich Adelt, University of Wyoming (WY)

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**Caucus: War and Peace Studies: Reconsidering the ‘R and R’: Dialectics of Violence and Pleasure in Militarism**
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Anita B (L1)

—Patricia Stuelke, University of Massachusetts, Boston (MA)
You’re a Criminal as Long as You’re Mind: The U.S. Invasion of Panama and the Sounds of Bad Romance

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**ASA Program Committee: Uncontrolled Substances/Altered States**

Westin Bonaventure, Level 1, San Bernadino

—Josh Kun, University of Southern California (CA)
The Musical Más Allá: Narco/Necro/Anarco

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10:00 am – 11:45 am

Fugitive Preludes: Chicana/o Popular Music and the Neoliberal City
Westin Bonaventure, San Gabriel C (L1)

CHAIR:
Christina Zanfagna, Santa Clara University (CA)

PAPERS:
Wanda Alarcón, University of California, Berkeley (CA)
Variations on a Theme: Performing América on the National Stage

Jonathan Gomez, University of California, Santa Barbara (CA)
Teen Post to Rainbow Alley: Facing Unexpectancy with Unexpectant Punk Rock Social Spaces

Kurt Newman, University of California, Santa Barbara (CA)
Undoing the Math: Chingo Bling, the “Not-All,” and the Politics of Parody

COMMENT:
Christina Zanfagna, Santa Clara University (CA)

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Willful Subjects: Action, Agency, and Politics
Westin Bonaventure, San Anita B (L1)

—Neil Roberts, Williams College (MA)
It’s Bigger than Hip Hop: Decoding the Trayvon Martin Event

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12:00 pm – 1:45 pm

Music, Fashion and the Power of (Queer) Nightlife
Westin Bonaventure, Los Cerritos (L1)

CHAIR:
Madison Moore, King’s College London (England)

PANELISTS:
Ananya Jahanara Kabir, King’s College London (England)
Matthew D. Morrison, Columbia University (NY)
Victor P. Corona, Fashion Institute of Technology (NY)
Gregory Alexander, Artist
Loren Granic, Artist
Amy Cakes Danky Dank, Artist

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High on Crack: Surveillance, Loss and Addiction in Black Communities
Westin Bonaventure, San Fernando (L1)

—Andreana Clay, San Francisco State University (CA)
“Kick in the Bass”: Sonic Navigation of Pleasure and Pain in Crack Lyrics

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Performing Decolonial Aesthetics and the Politics of Pain and Pleasure in Music Across the Americas
Westin Bonaventure, San Pedro (L1)

CHAIR:
Jaime Cardenas, Seattle Central Community College (WA)

PAPERS:
Marie “Keta” Miranda, University of Texas, San Antonio (TX)
Polka Dawgs: Tejana/o Dance as Pleasure in Response to Racial and Class Subordination

Marco Cervantes, University of Texas, San Antonio (TX)
Third Root Poetics Through Hip Hop Aesthetics: Performative Autoethnographies and Musical Empowerment

COMMENT:
Jaime Cardenas, Seattle Central Community College (WA)

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2:00 pm – 3:45 pm

Twelve Years a Slave: Sounds and Spectacles of Slavery
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Anita A (L1)

—Paul Fess, City University of New York, Graduate Center (NY)
“The most excruciating noise”: Power Structures of Music in Solomon Northup’s Twelve Years a Slave

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4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

Bittersweet: Remaking the Exhibit “American Sabor: Latinos in U.S. Popular Music” for the Smithsonian Institution
Westin Bonaventure, San Gabriel A (L1)

CHAIR:
Juan Flores, New York University (NY)

PANELISTS:
Marisol Berrios Miranda, Independent Scholar
Shannon Dudley, University of Washington, Seattle (WA)
Njoroge Njoroge, University of Hawai’i, Manoa (HI)
Victor Hugo Viesca, California State University, Los Angeles (CA)

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We’re Listening: Surveillance Technologies and Non-Private Publics
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Monica B (L3)

CHAIR:
Gus Stadler, Haverford College (PA)

PAPERS:
Andrew Hamsher, University of Texas, Austin (TX)
Controlling Fantasyland: Surveillance and Freedom in Transmedia Storyworlds

Jason Farman, University of Maryland, College Park (MD)
Creative Misuse as Resistance: Surveillance, Mobile Technologies, and Locative Games

Brian Hochman, Georgetown University (DC)
Eavesdrop Nation: The Rise of ‘Private Ear’ Wiretap, 1959-1974

Stephen Knadler, Spelman College (GA)
Kerry’s OMG Washington: Re-Scandalizing Racial Surveillance in the Obama Era

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"2nd Street Tunnel, Los Angeles -- Dec 30, 2010" by Flickr user Ray_from-LA, CC BY 2.0

“2nd Street Tunnel, Los Angeles — Dec 30, 2010” by Flickr user Ray_from-LA, CC BY 2.0

SATURDAY, November 8th

8:00 am – 9:45 am

Indigeneity and Difference
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Barbara B (L1)

Elizabeth Sine, University of California, San Diego (CA)
Native Jazz: Radical Multiraciality and the Politics of Desire in an Age of Global Crisis

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10:00 am – 11:45 am

Caucus: Sound Studies: Power Ballads and Blurred Lines: Songs from the Boundaries of Fun
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Barbara C (L1)

CHAIR:
Eric Weisbard, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (AL)

PANELISTS:
Jeff Chang, Stanford University (CA)
Alice Echols, University of Southern California (CA)
Evelyn McDonnell, Loyola Marymount University (CA)
Oliver Wang, California State University, Long Beach (CA)
Rubén Martínez, Loyola Marymount University (CA)

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2:00 pm – 3:45 pm

Caucus: Sound Studies: The Racial Politics of Listening: “Accents,” Hate Speech, and Language in the U.S. Media
Westin Bonaventure, San Fernando (L1)

CHAIR:
Isabel Molina-Guzman, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (IL)

PAPERS:
Sara Veronica Hinojos, University of California, Santa Barbara (CA)
Reading Lupe Vélez, Mexicanness, and Her Fiery “Accent”

Dolores Inés Casillas, University of California, Santa Barbara (CA)
Inglés Sin Barreras, Rosetta Stone, and the Politics of Language Learning

Marci McMahon, University of Texas, Pan American (TX)
Staging the Sound of Citizenship in Josefina Lopez’s Detained in the Desert

Jennifer Stoever-Ackerman, State University of New York, Binghamton (NY)
“You. Got. To. Un. Der. Stand”: Rachel Jeantel, “Reasonable” Listening, and the Sonic Color-line

COMMENT:
Isabel Molina-Guzman, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (IL)

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To Be Young, Global, and Black: The Global Circulations of Blackness and Americanness
Westin Bonaventure, San Pedro (L1)

CHAIR:
Jeff K. Chang, Stanford University (CA)

PAPERS:
—Samir Meghelli, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (IL)
Rapping and Race-ing Across the Atlantic: Hip Hop and Racial Politics in Postcolonial France

—H. Samy Alim, Stanford University (CA), Shaheen Ariefdien, Independent Scholar (South Africa)
Whaddup, San?: Hip Hop, “Colouredness,” and the Construction of Khoisan Identity in Post-Apartheid South Africa

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4:00 pm – 5:45 pm

Racial Meanings and Musical Performance in Film: Uses of Folk, Calypso, and Jazz in Films, 1944–1965
Westin Bonaventure, Beaudry B (L1)

CHAIR:
Kevin Gaines, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI)

PAPERS:
Geoffrey Jacques, Independent Scholar
Jazz, Film, and the Black Hipster

Shane Vogel, Indiana University–Bloomington (IN)
Trinidad Goes Hollywood: The Ersatz Epistemology of the Calypso Craze

Judith E. Smith, University of Massachusetts, Boston (MA)
Using, and Being Used by Hollywood: Harry Belafonte on Film, 1953–1959

Jacqueline Stewart, University of Chicago (IL)
The Cry of Jazz and The Corner: Filming Music of Everyday Black Life in Chicago

COMMENT:
Kevin Gaines, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI)

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Liberating Encounters: Cultural Consumption as Agent of Pleasure and Social Change in Contemporary Asian, Latin-American, and U.S. Popular Culture
Westin Bonaventure, San Fernando (L1)

—Patty Ahn, University of Southern California (CA)
Detours of Indebtedness: South Korean Pop Music and Neoliberal Logics of Race

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Arab Worlds: Then and Now
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Monica C (L3)

—Meghan E. Drury, George Washington University (DC)
The Belly of the Wail: Feminism and Arab Hybridity in 1990s World Music

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"Capitol Records Building" by Flickr user Wieland Van Dijk, CC BY-ND-SA 2.0

“Capitol Records Building” by Flickr user Wieland Van Dijk, CC BY-ND-SA 2.0

SUNDAY, November 9th

8:00 am – 9:45 am

Sports, Sex, and Music across the Pacific during the Cold War
Westin Bonaventure, Beaudry B (L1)

—Mari Yoshihara, University of Hawai’i, Manoa (HI)
Lenny Blows Up the World: Classical Musicians Play the Cold War

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Sonics of Black Excess, 1940s to 1980s
Westin Bonaventure, Los Cerritos (L1)

CHAIR:
Imani D. Owens, Princeton University (NJ)

PAPERS:
Brian Lefresne, University of Guelph Canada
A Fool in Space: Sun Ra the Jester at the Carnival

Charles McGovern, College of William and Mary (VA)
I Want a Lavender Cadillac: Fun, Excess and Labor in Black Popular Music, 1940–1970

Terrion L. Williamson, Michigan State University (MI)
Im Not Your Superwoman: Black Female Embodiment and the Sites of Social Intimacy

Brian Edward Jones, College of William and Mary (VA)
Big Fun with the Prince of Darkness: Miles Davis and the Death of the American Dream

COMMENT:
Imani D. Owens, Princeton University (NJ)

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10:00 am – 11:45 am

What Words Can’t Do: Instrumentals, Identity, and Interpretation
Westin Bonaventure, Los Cerritos (L1)

CHAIR:
Shana L. Redmond, University of Southern California (CA)

PANELISTS:
Shana L. Redmond, University of Southern California (CA)
Tsitsi Jaji, University of Pennsylvania (PA)
Guthrie Ramsey, Jr., University of Pennsylvania (PA)
Tamara Roberts, University of California, Berkeley (CA)

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The Pleasures and Pains of Hip Hop Listening: New Aesthetic Approaches
Westin Bonaventure, San Bernardino (L1)

CHAIRS:
Jill Toliver Richardson, City University of New York, Borough of Manhattan Community College (NY)

James Ford, Occidental College (CA)

PAPER:
Karen Jaime, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (IL), Jonathan Gray, City University of New York, John Jay College of Criminal Justice (NY), Candice Jenkins, City University of New York, Hunter College (NY), James Ford, Occidental College (CA)
The Pleasures and Pains of Hip Hop Listening: New Aesthetic Approaches

COMMENT:
Michael Jeffries, Wellesley College (MA)

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“All the Way Live”: The Aesthetics of Pleasure in California Funk
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Barbara C (L1)

CHAIR:
Laura Harris, Pitzer College (CA)

PAPERS:
Scot Brown, University of California, Los Angeles (CA)
“All the Way Live”: The Live Funk Aesthetic of Lakeside

Cheryl L. Keyes, University of California, Los Angeles (CA)
From Mademoiselle Mabry to Betty Davis: The Reigning Funk Diva from the Underground

Tony Bolden, University of Kansas (KS)
Are You Funkified?: The Choreopoetics of Pleasure in the Music of Sly and the Family Stone

COMMENT:
Laura Harris, Pitzer College (CA)

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**Caucus: Environment and Culture: Ecologies of Pleasure and Pain: Deviance, Destruction, and Desire in Environmental History**
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Barbara A (L1)

—Craig Eley, University of Wisconsin, Madison
Psychologically Ultimate Seashores: Natural Sound, Personal Pleasure, and Recording Technologies

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12:00 pm – 1:45 pm

Pleasure, Pain, Politics, and Performance: Black Women Artists and Their Fans
Westin Bonaventure, Palos Verdes (L1)

CHAIR:
Gayle Wald, George Washington University (DC)

PANELISTS:
Ruth Feldstein, Rutgers University, Newark (NJ)
Emily Lordi, University of Massachusetts, Amherst (MA)
Cherise Smith, University of Texas, Austin (TX)
Gayle Wald, George Washington University (DC)

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Performative Pleasures of Blackness: The Creation, Consumption, and Conflict of Pleasureable Blacknesses
Westin Bonaventure, San Fernando (L1)

—Danielle C. Heard, University of California, Davis (CA)
Feeling Good: Nina Simone and the Pleasures of Live Performance, Montreux 1976

—Scott Poulson-Bryant, Harvard University (MA)
The ‘Unruly Delights’ of the Great Black Way: Contradiction, Pleasure and Black Musicals of the 1970s

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Can Black Women Have Fun?: Beyond Mammies and Martyrs
Westin Bonaventure, San Gabriel A (L1)

—Margo Crawford, Cornell University (NY)
Erykah Badu’s Black Fantastic Re-invigoration of Black Cultural Nationalism

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2:00 pm – 3:45 pm

Central Avenue Breakdown: Gender, Race, and Coming of Age in a Los Angeles Jazz Community
Westin Bonaventure, Beaudry B (L1)

CHAIR:
Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University (NY)

PAPERS:
Maxine Gordon, Fordham University (NY)
Dexter Gordon and Melba Liston: The ‘Mischievous Lady Session’, June 5, 1947, Dial Records

Monica Hairston-O’Connell, Columbia College (IL), Sherrie Tucker, University of Kansas (KS)
Revisiting Central Avenue through Melba Liston’s Oral Histories

Nichole T. Rustin, Independent Scholar
Playing with Dynamics: Racialized Masculinity, Jazz, and Coming of Age on 1940s Central Avenue

COMMENT:
Farah Jasmine Griffin, Columbia University (NY)

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What Beyoncé (and Her Stans) Can Teach Us About The Pleasures of Intersectional Identity
Westin Bonaventure, Santa Barbara A (L1)

CHAIR:
Deborah Paredez, University of Texas, Austin (TX)

PANELISTS:
Clare Croft, University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (MI)
Micah Salkind, Brown University (RI)
Kristen Warner, University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa (AL)
Chelsea Bullock, University of Oregon (OR)
Deborah Paredez, University of Texas, Austin (TX)

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"DSCN9630" by Flickr user Carsten Titibach, CC BY 2.0

“DSCN9630” by Flickr user Carsten Titibach, CC BY 2.0

Toward a Practical Language for Live Electronic Performance

Amongst friends I’ve been known to say, “electronic music is the new jazz.” They are friends, so they smile, scoff at the notion and then indulge me in the Socratic exercise I am begging for. They usually win. The onus after all is on me to prove electronic music worthy of such an accolade. I definitely hold my own; often getting them to acknowledge that there is potential, but it usually takes a die hard electronic fan to accept my claim. Admittedly the weakest link in my argument has been live performance. I can talk about redefinitions of structure, freedom of forms and timbral infinity for days, but measuring a laptop performance up to a Miles Davis set (even one of the ones where his back remained to the crowd) is a seemingly impossible hurdle.

Mind you, I come from a jazzist perspective, which means that I consider jazz the pinnacle of western music. My classicist interlocutors will naturally cite the numerous accomplishments of classical composers as being unmatched within jazz. That will bring us to long debates about the merits of Charles Mingus and Duke Ellington as a composers, which leads, for a good many, to a concession on the part of Duke at least, but an inevitable assertion of the general inferiority U.S. composers compared to the European canon. And then I will say “why are we limiting things to composition when jazz goes so much further than the page?” To which I will get the reply: “orchestral performers were of the highest caliber.” Then I will rebut, “well why was Europe so impressed by Sidney Bechet?” But I digress.

Why talk about classical music in a piece on electronic music, you, my current interlocutor, may ask? Well, in placing electronic music in a historical context, its current stage of development keeps pace with the mental cleverness found in classical but applies it to different theoretical principles. The electronic musician’s DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) file amounts to the classical composer’s score; the electronic musician’s DSP (Digital Signal Processor) parallels the classical composer’s orchestra. I could call electronic music “the new classical” and I’d have a few supporters. But. . .taking it to the level of jazz? Electronic music would have to include not only the mental cleverness, but the physical cleverness as well.

Electronic artist using Ableton 5 Live, Image by Flickr user Nofi

Electronic artist using Ableton 5 Live, Image by Flickr user Nofi

Let’s back up for a bit. A couple years back, I did a piece for Create Digital Music on Live Electronic performance. I talked to a diverse group of artists about their processes for live performance, and I wrote it up with some video examples. It ended up being one of the most discussed pieces on CDM that year, with commentary ranging from fascination at the presentation of techniques to dismissal of the videos as drug-addled email inbox management.

This was to be expected, because of the lack of a language for evaluating electronic music. It is impossible to defend an artist who has been called a hack without the language through which to express their proficiency. Using Miles Davis as an example–specifically a show where his back is to the audience–there are fans that could defend his actions by saying the music he produced was nonetheless some of the best live material of his career, citing the solos and band interactions as examples. To the lay person, however, it may just seem rude and unprofessional for Davis to have his back to the audience; as such, it cannot be qualitatively a good performance no matter what. Any discussion of tone and lyrical fluidity often means little to the lay person.

The extent of this disconnect can be even greater with electronic performances. With his back turned to the audience, they can no longer see Miles’ fingers at work, or how he was cycling breath. Even when facing the crowd, an electronic musician whose regimen is largely comprised of pad triggers, knob turns, and other such gestures which simply do not have the same expected sonic correspondence as, for example, blowing and fingering do to the sound of a trumpet. Also, it is well known that the sound the trumpet produces cannot be made without human action. With electronic music however, particularly with laptop performances, audiences know that the instrument (laptop) is capable of playing music without human aid other than telling it to play. The “checking their email” sentiment is a challenge to the notion that what one is seeing in a live electronic performance is indeed an “actual performance.”

In the time since writing the CDM piece, I’ve seen well over a hundred live sets, listened to days worth of live recordings, spoken in-depth with countless artists about their choices on stage, and gauged fan reactions many times over: from mind-blowing performances in barns to glorified electronic karaoke in sold-out venues, tempo locked beat matching to eight channel cassette tape loops, ten thousand dollar hardware to circuit bent baby toys. After all of that, I still don’t know that I can win the jazz vs. electronic music debate, but I will at least try.

*****

A while back, I was paging through the December 2011 edition of The Wire when I came upon a review of a Flying Lotus performance, the conclusion of which stood out:

On record, the music has the unruly liquidity of dream logic wandering from astral pathways down alphabet street, returning via back alleys on its own whims. Maybe the listening mind, presented with pretty straight analogues of those tracks, rebels, expecting something more mercurial, more improvised. The atmosphere in the venue reflected this upper-downer tension and constraint: the crowd noise was positive, but crowd movement was minimal – a strange sight in the midst of FlyLo’s headier jams. When the hall emptied there was a grumbling undercurrent as the tide of humanity was spilling slowly down the Roundhouse steps, whispers of it must have reached the upper levels. One casualty high above leaned over to berate them: “You don’t know, even understand, what you just FELT.” Sadly though, he didn’t stick around to enlighten anyone.

It should be noted that there are positive reviews of the show, and while not necessarily the best gauge, the videos from the event may seem to tell a different story.

What stood out for me from the review however, was that in trying to write about what the writer felt was a less than stellar performance, there was only one critique which could directly be attributed to the music, which was to say that Flying Lotus performed “straight analogues” of his tracks. Beyond that, the writer was left describing the feelings from the audience.

Feelings are tricky things. We all have them and they are the fundamental point of connection we seek when experiencing music. The message conveyed through the medium of music is meant to be an emotional one. But measuring those emotions is a task which cannot escape subjectivity. In a case like this when one writer is attempting to speak for the feelings of the whole audience, it becomes really tricky. Sure the writer may consider their analysis to have been objective, but it was still based on their perception of the audience, not the audience’s perception. Even more, this gauging of the audience dynamic does not tell us how the actual music performance was regardless of the varied perspectives from within the audience. I contend that this gap occurs because the language for discussing electronic performance has not yet been established.

Around the time I read The Wire review I was also reading Adam Harper’s Infinite Music, which offers variability as a primary factor of analysis in music. Instead of building on traditional music theory, Harper takes cues from those on the fringes of western music. He builds a concept of ‘music space’ by expanding John Cage’s “sound space,” the limits of which are ear determined. Furthermore, Harper’s non-musical variables and how they play into creating individually unique musical events, strengthens Christopher Small’s notion of musicking as a verb. In this way, Harper creates a fluid language for discussing music which might prove practical for these purposes.

It is helpful to use one of the central concepts of Harper’s music space, musical objects, as a means of distinguishing electronic performance.

Systems of variables constitute musical objects – Adam Harper

Going back to Miles Davis, his instrument is a monophonic musical object with a limited pitch and dynamic range in the upper register of the brass timbre. His musical talent is evaluated based on how he is able to work within those limitations to create variable experiences. His band represents another musical object comprised of the individual players as musical objects as well. The venue in which they are playing is a musical object, as is the audience and Davis’ decision to perform with his back to it. It is the coming together of all of these musical objects that creates the musical event (an alternate event includes the musical object which recorded the performance, and the complete setting of the listener as an individual musical objects upon playing the live recording). In a musical event comprised of these musical objects – Davis performing live in front of an audience with his back turned so he can face the band–it is possible to imagine a similar reaction to the above commentary about Flying Lotus, including a guy berating the audience for not making the connection.

Miles Davis @ Montreux, 8.7.1984 Image by Flickr user Christophe Losberger

Miles Davis @ Montreux, 8.7.1984 Image by Flickr user Christophe Losberger

In this Davis example however, we could listen to the audio to determine whether or not it was a “good” performance by analyzing the musical objects which can be observed in the recording (note: this would be technical analysis of the performance, not the event or its reception). Does Davis’s tone falter? How strong are the solos? Is he staying in the pocket with the rest of the band? Evaluation of these variables would be a testament to his proficiency which could be compared to other performances to determine if it measures up.

Flying Lotus’s set however is a bit different. Yes, we could listen back to the audio (or watch the video) and determine if indeed it measures up to other sets he has performed, but unlike with Davis, we cannot translate what we hear directly to his agency. When we hear the trumpet on the Davis recording we know that the sound is caused by him physically blowing into his instrument. When we hear a bass in a Flying Lotus set, there isn’t necessarily a physical act associated with the creation of the sound. With all of the visual cues removed in the Davis example, we can still speak about the performance aspect of the music; the same is not necessarily so about an electronic set, even with visual cues. In many electronic sets, it is only when something goes wrong that actual agency in the music being performed can be attributed.

Flying Lotus,@ SonarDome, Sonar 2012, Image by Flickr user Boolker

Flying Lotus,@ SonarDome, Sonar 2012, Image by Flickr user Boolker

Where the advent of the laptop and DSP advances for music have expanded creative possibilities, they only shroud what the performers using them are actually doing in more mystery. It’s an esoteric language, or perhaps languages, as ultimately each artist’s live rig configuration amounts to different musical objects, across which there may not be compatibilities.

However, in certain musical circles there are common musical objects. Perhaps the most common musical object for performance in electronic music right now is Ableton Live, which results in common component musical objects across performances by different artists. Further, an Ableton Live set can sound just like a Roland 404 set, which can sound just like a DJ set with a Kaoss pad, all of which can sound identical to a set not performed live but produced in the studio (or bedroom as the case may be) for a podcast. The reason for this is that much of the music is already fixed. What changes is the sequencing of these fixed pieces of music over time, their transitions and the variety of effects employed. The goal for these types of sets is a continuous flow of pre-arranged music, which parallels that of a DJ set.

In the past few years, the line between a live electronic set and a DJ set has been blurred extensively. Fans have become fairly critical of artists, to the point that it has become standard practice for promoters to list whether performances will be live or a DJ set. Even on the DJ end of the spectrum there’s a lot of questions, as artists have been called out for their DJ set being an iPod playlist. To qualify as a live set however, an artist must be doing more than just playing songs. How much more is debatable, but should it be?

Flying Lotus - Sónar 2012 - Jueves 14/05/2012, Image by Flickr user scannerfm

Flying Lotus – Sónar 2012 – Jueves 14/05/2012, Image by Flickr user scannerfm

Nobody in their right mind would call Miles Davis a hack. Even if they didn’t like specific performances, few would question his proficiency with the instrument. The reason for this is that his talent rises above the standard performance, beneath which someone could be qualified as a hack. If a trumpet player spent a whole night performing only shrill notes of a C major chord around middle C, without properly qualifying that their performance would be so constrained as a stylistic choice, one might consider calling that artist out as a hack (I apologize in advance to the serious musician that fits in this description).

The rationale behind this assessment is based on knowing the potential variability of the instrument and realizing that the performer is not exploring any of that variability. Perhaps there could be other layers of variability (e.g. an effects chain) added to the trumpet to make it interesting musically, but it can be objectively said that they don’t measure up to a standard quality of a trumpet player. If we say that the trumpet has an extensive dynamic range, a tonality which can go from smooth to harsh and a pitch range of just over three octaves, we can see how the player in our example is exhibiting quite a low proficiency.

This goes across all styles of trumpet playing. Were a style to impose limitations on a player, it could be said that the style did not allow for the full expression of proficiency on the instrument. A player within that style could be considered proficient in that context, but would require a broader performance to be analyzed for general proficiency. So the player in our example could be a master of “Shrill C” trumpet, but in order to compare with a Miles Davis they would have to perform out of style. Conversely, Miles Davis may be one of the world’s greatest trumpet players, but possibly the worst “Shrill C” trumpet player ever.

From this we can see that the language of variability provides a unique way to objectively speak on the performance of musical objects, while fully taking into account the way styles can play into performance. Using this language we open the world of electronic performance up for analysis and comparison.

This is part one of a three part series. In my next installment, I will use some of the language here to analyze the instruments and techniques used in electronic performance today. Once we have a fluid language for describing what is being used, I believe we will be better equipped to speak about what happens on stage.

Featured Image by Flickr User Scanner FM, Flying Lotus – Sónar 2012 – Jueves 14/05/2012

Primus Luta is a husband and father of three. He is a writer and an artist exploring the intersection of technology and art, and their philosophical implications. He is a regular guest contributor to the Create Digital Music website, and maintains his own AvantUrb site. Luta is a regular presenter for the Rhythm Incursions Podcast series with his monthly showRIPL. As an artist, he is a founding member of the live electronic music collectiveConcrète Sound System, which spun off into a record label for the exploratory realms of sound in 2012.

Primus Luta will be playing “electronics” in a live jazz setting on Wed. May 1st. with Daniel Carter (Sun Ra, Matthew Shipp and others) at the Brecht Forum in NY. Facebook Event is here. And there’s a flyer here.

tape reelREWIND! . . .If you liked this post, you may also dig:

Experiments in Agent-based Sonic Composition–Andreas Pape

Evoking the Object: Physicality in the Digital Age of Music-Primus Luta

Sound as Art as Anti-environment–Steven Hammer

Freedom Back: Sounding Black Feminist History, Courtesy the Artists

SO IASPM7Welcome to week four of  our February Forum on “Sonic Borders,”  a collaboration with the IASPM-US blog in connection with this year’s IASPM-US conference on Liminality and Borderlands, held in Austin, Texas from February 28 to March 3, 2013.  The “Sonic Borders” forum is a Virtual Roundtable cross-blog entity that will feature six Sounding Out! writers posting on Mondays through February 25, and four writers from IASPM-US, posting on Wednesdays starting February 6th and ending February 27th.  For an encore of weeks one through three of the forum, click here. And now, Tavia Nyong’o reviews Courtesy the Artist’s The Meeting, courtesy of Sounding Out! –JSA

Last October 2012, in tandem with the New York launch of the retrospective art show Now Dig This! Art and Black Los Angeles 1960-1980,  curated by Kellie Jones and running through March 11, 2013, MoMA PS 1 invited the sounds and images of Black Power into their courtyard Performance Dome for a Sunday afternoon collaborative arts project called The Meeting curated by Courtesy the Artists. Courtesy the Artists is the collaboration of Malik Gaines and Alexandro Segade:  two-thirds of the core members of the L.A.-based performance art collective My Barbarian (the third is Jade Gordon). For The Meeting, recently transplanted New Yorkers Gaines and Seagade opted to curate a gathering of local artists, dancers and musicians they wanted to get to know better, such as LaTasha Diggs, niv Acosta, and Samita Sinha.

the meeting

Curation as collaboration was the ethos behind The Meeting in PS1; Gaines and Segade were much more than masters of ceremony, but performed alongside the artists and musicians they invited. At times The Meeting felt more like a jam session than anything else, following the improvisatory and ensemblic ethos of experimental jazz. Performance piece as musician’s jam was indeed a fitting form, given that the afternoon was built around Seize the Time, a 1969 album of agit-prop cabaret recorded by activist, musician, and erstwhile Black Panther leader, Elaine Brown.

seize

Each participant in The Meeting was invited to respond, in their chosen art form to a song from Brown’s album or another aspect of her legacy that moved them. And move them it did. If music held the event together — from Charles Gaines on the piano and drums to Matana Roberts on a haunting saxophone solo to Geo Wyeth closing down the evening with an astonishing version of  “Seize the Time” intermixed with “Age of Aquarius” from the musical Hair — poetry, polemic, video, and dance sent it spinning off into a dozen scintillating tangents.

What those intersecting and diverging responses to Brown’s album shared was a concern with how the past resonates in the present, how a historical call might not always be muted over time, but sometimes amplified by its repetition across time. Given the predominance of the visual in contemporary culture — nowhere more glaring, perhaps, than in institutions devoted to visual art — what do we make of the role of the aural as a medium through which to register the reverberations of a past? The Meeting was held in a temporary structure, literally vestibular to the permanent edifice of the museum. Is the ear a similar vestibule to the institutions of culture, and, if it is, then wherein might the power of that vestibular flesh, as Hortense Spillers once named it, lie?

tumblr_mhegrcnED51rnoievo1_1280

NYC MoMa Ps1’s Vestibular Performance Dome, image by http://momaps1.tumblr.com/

On Seize the Time, the mercurial Brown transposed the black revolutionary urgency of the 1960s into a musical idiom that sounded remarkable even in its day. It is slightly bemusing to settle into the jazzy opening of the title track  “Seize the Time” with the knowledge that Marvin Gaye’s What’s Going On and Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly were just around the corner. Certainly, despite their shared sonic defiance of American racism, Brown’s didactic sprechegesang would never be mistaken for Nina Simone’s soulful alto. Closer to the sonic mark would be singer-songwriters like Carole King, Janis Ian and Joni Mitchell, artists who broke the mold for women in pop in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Consider the rhetorical and musical twists and turns of the first verse of “The End of Silence,” a song that manages equal parts women’s liberation and black nationalism without ever teetering into blaxploitation supervixen territory:

Have you ever stood
In the darkness of night
Screaming silently you’re a man?
Have you ever hoped
That the time would come
When your voice could be heard
In the noonday sun?
Have you waited so long
Till your unheard song
Has stripped away your very soul?
Then believe it my friend
That the silence can end
We’ll just have to get guns and be men.

If The Meeting was a response to the call of that final line, it was one in which the shift from a single voice with backing band to a range of voices and positions was always audible. Some might call this postmodern fragmentation: dance choreographed to a repeating sample of Brown singing “freedom back,” a version of the album edited down to just the sequential instances of her singing the word “man,” played to projected images of every gun in the Panther arsenal she lists in her book. But these interventions arguably only expand our audition of the original album’s possibilities. More than 30 years on, The Meeting took advantage of Seize The Time’s musico-political incongruity to prise open new lines of affiliation between the past and our revanchist present.  The question continuously hung in the air: How do we occupy our radical black and feminist legacies, especially given the fact that we cannot simply repeat those struggles in identical terms? How do we get freedom back?

The declamatory cadences of black rhetoric were as central to the way The Meeting sounded as was its music. LaTasha Diggs’s barnburning performances stopped the show to inform us that revolutionary pussy was out of stock. With Charles Gaines on drums and Matana Roberts on sax, Malik Gaines scatted excerpts from President Obama’s “race speech” while excerpts from speeches Elaine Brown had given to the Panthers were read. Since the context of Obama’s speech had been his own attempt to surrogate the justified anger of the Black Power generation with a message of reconciliation, re-mixing it in this context meant it no longer had the privilege of temporal succession over Brown, but black feminist rhetoric and the improvisatory sax could invaginate his rhetoric with an eternal recurrence of radical insurgence.

It is important to note the predominantly queer and trans performance modalities through which the Meeting posed–if not fully answered–its questions regarding freedom in a contemporary context. Brown’s refrain “we’ll just have to get guns and be men” took on a new connotation when juxtaposed against the queer and trans bodies and voices in performance.

Here history revealed itself as palimpsest: images and icons were superimposed one upon the other to create dense, freighted symbols of masculinity and femininity. In a refrain originally meant to rally radical black women towards the community leadership roles tendentiously claimed by men, the gun was much more than a ‘phallic symbol.’ As Kara Keeling recounts in The Witch’s Flight (an important book containing a shrewd analysis of Seize the Time):

The appearance of the [Black Panther Party] allowed for the recognition of the black man in the Black. But this need not be understood as precluding black “females” from appearing in blacks with guns, nor does it necessarily indicate an inherent connection between “men” and “males.” What is perhaps most innovative about the BPP’s cinematic appearance is that it threw into doubt the validity of the common sense that linked “man” with “male” with “masculine” (85).

For Keeling, the innovative disruption of white supremacist racist sense — congealed in stereotypical images of black men and black women — set the stage, formed the backing track, for the historical emergence of queer and transmasculinities.

niv Acosta dance performance, image courtesy of the author

niv Acosta, image courtesy of the author

Transgender dancer and choreographer niv Acosta rhythmically ran his body against the cushioned seating of the performance dome, to the rhythmic sampling of “freedom back.” The phrase was curiously ambiguous: what actual historical freedom could Brown have possibly exhorted the panthers to claim? What imagined freedom do we think we can reclaim via our remixing of Black Power? The power of Acosta’s performance was to embody that question as a lived and livable improvisation.

Geo Wyeth performs, image courtesy of @momaps1

Geo Wyeth performs, image courtesy of @momaps1

The degree to which a musical legacy such as Brown’s can or should be appropriated beyond a black context was also pointedly staged that afternoon, perhaps most self-consciously by Alex Segade’s rendition of “The Meeting” — which Brown once called the Party’s anthem — in Spanish. Segade’s version captured the melodrama and romantic longing, staging the historical interconnections between black and brown power in California as a hall of mirrors and fleeting glances.

Geo Wyeth brought the house down with a funky final number that had the audience on the edge of their seats, perhaps awaiting the promised nudity a sign at the entrance warned the performance would contain. Wyeth’s onstage costume changes were anything but a striptease, however, as he instead fused the militancy of Seize the Time  with the sexual revolution of Hair in an incompossible auditory portrait of the legacy of “the Sixties.” His performance left the audience with the emphatic reminder that it is less his generation’s challenge to prove adequate to the past than it is to retrieve from history’s shroud the pulsating star of their own desires.

[The Meeting included Simone Leigh, Samita Sinha, Matana Roberts, Charles Gaines, Malik Gaines, Adam Pendleton, niv Acosta, LaTasha Diggs, Xaviera Simmons, Jarrod Kentrell, Alex Segade, and Geo Wyeth].

Featured Image of Jarrod Kentrell performing to Elaine Brown’s “Very Black Man” at The Meeting, Courtesy of the author

Tavia Nyong’o is Associate Professor of Performance Studies at New York University, where he writes, researches and teaches critical black studies, queer studies, cultural theory, and cultural history. His first book, The Amalgamation Waltz: Race, Performance, and the Ruses of Memory (Minnesota, 2009), won the Errol Hill Award for best book in African American theatre and performance studies. Nyong’o has published articles on punk, disco, viral media, the African diaspora, film, and performance art in venues such as Radical History Review, Criticism, TDR: The Journal of Performance Studies, Women & Performance: A Journal of Feminist Theory, Women Studies Quarterly, The Nation, and n+1. He is co-editor of the journal Social Text.

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